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Rochester Rhinos Secure Naming Rights Partner for Stadium

2011 February 11

The Rochester Rhinos announced in a press conference on Thursday that Sahlen’s Packing Company, which owns the Western New York Flash of the WPS, has agreed to a 10-year commitment to call the home of the Rochester Rhinos, Rattlers and Flash – Sahlen’s Stadium.

Sahlen’s Stadium

Sahlen’s Packing is a Buffalo, New York based company specializing in Meat Products. They currently have a sponsorship deal to be the “official hot dog” of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. But Joe Sahlen, President of Sahlen’s Packing, told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle that their marketing thrust will not be hot dogs but other meat products that his company produces.

The stadium naming rights deal is believed to be somewhere near what PAETEC, a local Rochester, NY telecommunications company, had paid which was estimated to be about $2.1 million over seven years. The stadium was originally named PAETEC Park when opened in 2006. When the previous Rhinos owners were forced out for financial reasons, the deal was voided. Clark took over the team and cut a 1-year deal with PAETEC in 2008. In 2009 a new deal was struck with Marina Auto Group.

“This is an exciting day for our organization,” said Rhinos owner Rob Clark. “Sahlen’s long-term commitment gives stability to the stadium and our franchises. We also believe our partnership, as it pertains to the WNY Flash, brings economic value to the community.”

Rob Clark, owner of the Rochester Rhinos and the Rattlers, a new lacrosse team, told IMS the agreement is a 5-year deal with an option for another 5 years. He also said the partnership opens up another bigger plan for his Rhinos.

“Our 5 year plan for the Rhinos is to find a way to put Rochester back on MLS’s radar,” said Clark in an email on Thursday evening. “We are extremely pleased not only to have Sahlen’s as our naming rights partner, but also as a future potential partner should an opportunity to join MLS present itself.”

He explained that Sahlen now has a option to acquire 1/3 ownership in the Rhinos should they have the opportunity to become an MLS team. “We are one investor short of making that a reality,” said Clark.

33 Responses
  1. john permalink
    February 11, 2011

    sorry to be a debbie downer but the Rhinos will never play in MLS ever…

  2. Mike permalink
    February 11, 2011

    And you base that comment on what exactly? The Rhinos have a solid fan base, the stadium is a 12,000 seat soccer-specific park with 15 suites that’s easily expandable, and an MLS team there would draw regionally from Buffalo and Syracuse. They also operate the stadium and have a master lease, giving them first pick of dates for any events scheduled. A Buffalo company thought enough of the place to buy the naming rights and of Rochester to put a WPS team there. All they need is another investor or two to pony up the necessary cash.

  3. john permalink
    February 11, 2011

    Do you really think MLS will pick Rochester?? (who the hell knows what city that is) over New York 2, Miami, Atlanta, Detroit, San Diego?

    Get real…This is more of Rob Clark just posturing to get people excited so people will
    come to the stadium again after their attendance has been declining every year for the
    past several seasons.

    Fan support has hit an all time low with the self relegation to the 3rd division as evidenced by
    the nearly zero-activity on Rhinos blogs and forums and the disbanding of their only
    supporters group.

  4. Brendan permalink
    February 11, 2011

    Back in the day the Rhinos drew more fans and better players than a lot of MLS teams.
    Every time expansion was brought up, Rochester was on the shortlist. Rochester has had a successful and sustained team and a strong regional presence. They have multiple academy teams and everyone in the area knows who they are.
    If they don’t get in the league, then they will reclaim their status as the best team outside of MLS which the Rhinos held for about five seasons from ’98 to ’02.

  5. teucer permalink
    February 11, 2011

    Teams that think *second* division is too expensive are not obvious candidates for MLS franchises.

    But it would be cool to see them get in.

  6. john permalink
    February 11, 2011

    I’m pretty sure the Puerto Rico Islanders have a pretty decent claim to being the best team outside MLS..

  7. February 11, 2011

    teucer,

    I don’t think Clark thought the NASL was too expensive. He had philosophical differences with the NASL and their business plan. As he also had with USL when he dropped from USL-1 and went to the NASL. I think USL PRO was what brought him back.

  8. jw7 permalink
    February 11, 2011

    That entertainment!

  9. teucer permalink
    February 11, 2011

    BQ: I don’t feel like I understand his decision, given that he backed TOA for a while. But it always seemed clear it was motivated by business needs only, and I don’t really disagree with his choices, but I can’t imagine it helps his case for bringing MLS in.

  10. yankiboy permalink
    February 11, 2011

    @Mike-I want to ask you a serious question (I’m not trying to be a smart alec”:

    If disilusione Rhinos fans don’t want to go to the stadium now (it’s in da (alleged) ‘hood’, the quality of the product, etc, etc, etc) what give you hope that they could ever rebuild the fanbase to the point where an investor with deep pockets would want to take a chance on throwing his money behind trying to get them it in, espceially given the fact that they are off MLS radar and were apparently never as high on the radar as some of the previous Rhino management lead fans to believe back in the glory days?

    [Yes, that is one heck of a load run on sentence/question]

  11. yankiboy permalink
    February 11, 2011

    “We are one MEGA DADDYWARBUCK$ type investor WHO CAN PULL STRINGS WITH THE USSF AND WORK MIRACLES short of making that a reality,” said Clark.

    My version of what I heard when Mr. Clark made that hilarrrriously funny comment.

    (Sorry. I’m not smart enough to know how to use italics in the forum.)

  12. yankiboy permalink
    February 11, 2011

    Mr. Clark’s humorus comments aside–

    Nice win for the Rhinos. Always nice to have some extra ca$h coming in.

    Hopefully no one pulls the cord on the WPS life support machine and the Rhinos are able to regain some of the ground that they have lost in the last five years or so.

  13. Strikers Return permalink
    February 11, 2011

    Agree with yankiboy here, nice sponsorship deal for the club. This is exactly the type of deal lower level teams need to be able to make to be more stable long term. But the MLS talk is really tough to read without laughing. If Clark really believed in a long term chance at getting his team into MLS, why on earth would he self-relegate to an “alleged” regional league? MLS isn’t regional. If you’re trying to work TOWARD MLS, why are you moving your franchise to a league with a model that runs in the opposite direction?

    Clark could have had a chance to become a true marquee franchise in D2, but decided, for whatever reasons, to self-relegate. I wish the Rhinos the best, they have been a staple in lower division soccer for quite some time. But I worry a bit about their road ahead based on the decisions and words of late from Clark.

  14. teucer permalink
    February 11, 2011

    Strikers puts my thoughts better than I could. I’d love to see Rochester in MLS, but this doesn’t seem like he’s on that path.

  15. Doug permalink
    February 11, 2011

    Wow – “outdrew and had better players than most MLS teams”. Tag that under delusions of grandeur.

    Good crowds? Yes. Some good players? Yes. Some players better than some in MLS? A few (Yari, etc.)

    But let’s not be silly about it.

    OTOH – I do think Rochester *could* be an MLS venue. The only problem is there are more attractive markets (Miami, Atlanta, Orlando, etc.) where a big investor is more likely to put a team and a stadium – if for no other reason than the league would want the market for television purposes.

  16. Strikers Return permalink
    February 11, 2011

    @Doug – Exactly. The league has swelled to 19 teams, and has gotten onto much more stable footing financially, some even making profits now. I’d be absolutely shocked if ANY further expansion teams were not in BIG tv markets. The next step in the evolution of the league, and in being more profitable across the board is a major tv deal. I’m not talking 21 games on ESPN2, in which a lot of teams are left out, including the defending champs. A REAL tv deal that makes money for ALL of the teams. That would mean HAVING to be in the largest tv markets. I’m guessing Rochester isn’t going to fit the profile anytime soon.

  17. yankiboy permalink
    February 11, 2011

    @Strikers Return & Doug:

    Please stop ruining this thread with logic!

    MLS is going to Rochester. Again.

    That ROC to MLS Kool-aid is some of the best around.

    I am amazed that some diehards are still drinking from that
    punch bowl.

  18. Strikers Return permalink
    February 11, 2011

    @yankiboy – My bad my friend! LOL

  19. Dan permalink
    February 11, 2011

    Off subject apparently tomorrow the NASL and the USSF will have a joint announcement. So the fact that it is a joint announcement does that mean they are sanctioned.

  20. Dave permalink
    February 11, 2011

    @Dan – Or they agreed to go D3.

  21. Dan permalink
    February 11, 2011

    Well as long as they are sanctioned i’m okay with that.

  22. Dave permalink
    February 11, 2011

    Well there was never any question that they could get always D3. It was NASL that said D2 or bust.

  23. fotbalist permalink
    February 11, 2011

    I would agree that there were a few years – late 90’s until early 2k’s – when a good number of MLS teams were scared to face Rochester, especially at the Rhinos’ home pitch. It was well evidenced in 1998 or 1999 when they won the US Open Cup. Somewhat unrelated, but Vancouver & Montreal were also strong enough to take on a number of the MLS teams back then. The soccer landscape was very different 10 years ago. That was then…

    …this is now. The MLS has now become a very strong league in the last 5 years. The organizational structure is far stronger, an there is a culture of high quality on the field and in the front office. It’ll be many years before D2 (NASL or whoever) becomes a close competitor to D1 (MLS).

    Given these observations, I (speaking only for myself) I don’t think a market like Rochester is likely to get an MLS team even if the MLS expands to 24 teams. I would guess that the MLS would prefer to stay at 20 teams for the time being.

  24. February 11, 2011

    I think Rochester has a better shot then Miami and Tampa Bay. The Don even told Miami to support the teams it has, and Rochester does that well. USL Pro has a few teams with great fan support. I would like to see the Battery in the MLS before cities like Miami, Atlanta, Detroit, and San Diego. To be fair, those cities are not soccer markets period. Will Detroit and San Diego bribe people to come to games with free meth and clean syringes? Detroit really only has one team, and that is the Red Wings. I say that because the 18,000 residents of Detroit with more than thirty dollars to their names attend Red Wings games. All jokes aside about serious and really heart breaking economics, I think cities that prove themselves as stable and successful over a long period of time should go regardless of their “television market” status.

  25. yankiboy permalink
    February 11, 2011

    @DB: Rochester’s support for the Rhinos fell of so hard over the last five years it’s not funny.
    Seriously. Having visited Frontier and PAETEC/Rhinos/Marina stadium it has been shocking to see how that fanbase has eroded.

    No chance does Rochester get into MLS before Florida or Tamperrr.

  26. RedCard permalink
    February 11, 2011

    Their only one thing standing in the way of Rochester getting a MLS team that is the Cosmos Ya I said it. The Cosmos are a more recognizable and storied club making it more marketable. The MLS want that name or their list plus the Cosmos are in a bigger city making is more likely to draw a bigger attendance then Rochester easily. You are talking about the biggest city in the U.S Once New York get a team that’s it for that state now way are they going to put three team in one state maybe in the future but not now.

    FYI: There is not second team in New York the Redbulls are in New Jersey. I say that because I know someone out there is going to use that as a defense why their should be a team in NewYork is never fails.

  27. February 11, 2011

    California has three and Texas has two. Rochester would be fine, and all those fans will come back, that have fallen off, once they get the big league call up.

    Maybe someday Ontario could have two or three teams, but by that time, hopefully, we have our own national Division I league.

  28. yankiboy permalink
    February 12, 2011

    @Redcard: The Cosmos aren’t “the only one thing standing in the way of Rochester getting an MLS”–it’s just another thing to add to the list.

  29. RedCard permalink
    February 12, 2011

    @ Daniel True Texas and California are two to three team but only Houston and Los Angeles Galaxy are going good if you are just counting attendance and they are still not making money and they are bigger cities. It might work but they are not on the top of the list and they would probbly give a franchise to the Cosmos be for Rochester. Rochester could get a call up but I think you are talking about years down the road plus the Rochester might want to move up a to D2 to make a case.

    @ yankiboy also very true.

  30. Thruball permalink
    February 12, 2011

    For those confused by the Rhinos drop to D3: Clark inherited his position because the Rhinos owed his dad’s bank a LOT of money. It’s Rob’s job to make it back. And I think he’s doing a decent job. Why drop to D3 this year? Well….. look at the timing of a 10 year sponsorship deal vs the timing of whether or not D2 would even exist.

    I don’t deny that drumming up MLS talk might be a way to put more butts in the seats. However, I don’t think the MLS would ever …deny…. a Rhinos ownership group a place in the league if they met the correct financial backing. There’s no guesswork on if there is a fanbase or SSS.

    Yes attendance has dropped (well….slightly risen last year) over the last few years. But I can attribute a lot of that to a lack of publicity. The FO may not have been in the position to run the stadium, pay the players and staff, AND put enough publicity out there to actually draw bigger crowds. A combination of suites and naming rights will hopefully give them that opportunity this year. And they’re going to need it.

    None of us expect WPS to survive too long (it will be nice if it does). But they’ve put together what should be a very watchable team this season and I’m looking forward to it. The thing is, I’m going to bet that some of the Rhino’s tickets buyers are going to slide over to WPS. I can tell you that I’ll be taking my female soccer players to see the WPS this summer instead of our usual Rhinos trip. It’s a no brainer.

    Sortof like the move to D3……

    If D2 establishes itself as a viable league and the Rhinos don’t move into it… then I can see some trouble. But for now I’m going to look forward to a fun summer….

  31. Dan permalink
    February 13, 2011

    Well If D2 does become stable with the NASL, It might be a little difficult for Rochester to make the jump after the comments by on the Soccer Sam show.

  32. meh permalink
    February 14, 2011

    Comments here rubbishing other markets are rather amusing; Rochester had a nice run in the late 90s, at a time when MLS was struggling. That’s not impressive. Home town boosterism is nice, but let’s try not to be too delusional.

    Rochester is a “soccer city” but cities like Tampa or Ft. Lauderdale aren’t? The Rowdies drew huge crowds back in the day; so did the Strikers (allowing for their smaller stadium) whereas the Lancers drew flies. “Ancient history”, you say? Sure, but so are the “glory years” of the Rhinos. All ancient history.

    The reality now is, any major metro area in the USA and Canada could support an MLS team, if it has the right stadium situation and is marketed and promoted correctly. Real Salt Lake is proof of that. If you can have that kind of success in Utah, you can do it anywhere. There’s nothing special or unique about Rochester as a pro soccer market.

    Rochester is a minor market; it was never really on MLS’s expansion radar except at a time when MLS was desperate for new investors. And even then it didn’t happen. MLS can afford to be much more selective now; would a Clark/Sahlen ownership group really have deep enough pockets to interest Garber now? I don’t know; is Sahlen really that rich? Because it would take a very rich ownership group indeed to get Rochester into MLS now, given MLS’s need to have a true national footprint.

    MLS needs several rich ownership groups in the Southeast, and several more to fill in gaps in the West, Southwest, and Midwest. MLS doesn’t need much expansion right now in the Northeast (with the exception of a proper NYC team). Rochester in MLS could happen by the time MLS expands to 32 teams (ie, a long time from now), but I don’t see it happening when MLS is trying to fill spots 20 through 24.

  33. meh permalink
    February 14, 2011

    “Well If D2 does become stable with the NASL, It might be a little difficult for Rochester to make the jump after the comments by on the Soccer Sam show.”

    Fortunately the stupid comments on the Soccer Sam show don’t necessarily reflect the real situation in the Rhinos FO or ownership. Comments on an obscure soccer show aren’t going to affect anything. Past actions by Clark might.

    Of course the thing about the whole “NASL is unstable” argument for the Rhinos dropping down to USL Pro is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: by abandoning the NASL in its darkest hour, Clark forced the whole D2 sanctioning crisis out into the public space, when it didn’t have to be there, thus making NASL even more unstable – or appearing to be so even more so than it actually is.

    If NASL survives and grows and becomes the official, long term D2 league, will it let the Rhinos back in? Right now, NASL needs Rochester; next year it will need Rochester. But if NASL gets official, permanent D2 sanctioning in 2013 or 2014 and has enough ownership groups in enough cities, it won’t need Rochester anymore. And then, what? Clark better time his next “jump” carefully and hope he hasn’t burned too many bridges.

    I have to wonder how USL Pro will affect the Rhino’s efforts to win back their fan base. Sure, they save some money on travel costs, but that also means that they will be playing against smaller, less well financed teams, who can’t afford D2 salaries. Quality of play will suffer sooner or later – maybe fans won’t notice, but you have to get them back into the stands first.

    USL Pro having a shorter season does not help, either. Fewer home games = fewer butts in seats (in total, regardless of the average attendance). Playing a season heavily weighted to the summer months means you’re not just competing against baseball, but against summer vacations as well. Soccer attendance goes up in the Fall, usually, but without games in the Fall you lose that extra time and that extra chance to recover your fan base. I wonder if Clark has considered this. He might be singing a different tune when 2012 rolls around. We shall see.

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